Worldwide, the pandemic COVID-19 became the prime point of concern for the past few months Indeed, our liveability has been drastically affected and changed in these months. Cities, across the globe were the hard-hit areas by this pandemic; hence, it is important to understand the connection between city planning and spread of disease which is going to be the part and parcel of our daily life. Many are in the opinion that population density and dense urban morphology are the major contributors for the rapid spread of the virus.
If it’s going to like this, then how would we make the common places accessible and guarantee to build immunity and health? Whether active mobility could be a decisive factor in designing and reshaping the urban spaces? To address all these aspects, it is therefore important to consider cities in the intertwined perspective of people, economy and environment. Thus, this situation presents an opportunity and challenge to explore the new vistas of urban planning.
Pandemics in the past across the globe have reformed the planning, management and public health engineering systems of cities. Thus, kindle the introduction of modern civic amenities starting from urban sanitation systems, housing regulatory norms and etc. COVID-19 will not be an exception to that. This pandemic shows the indomitable connection with haphazard urbanisation on natural habitats, which left us on the brink to unknown pathogens that may originate from anywhere. Moreover, when the world is in favour of maintaining distance from each other as a precautionary measure, the ill of city density increase the vulnerability. However, on the positive side, the humongous advancements in digital revolution have allowed people to track the traverse of the virus flawlessly and could inform city planning and restructuring in the years to come.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has a thoughtful impact on transport sector and mode of mobility too. Countries and cities have imposed measures to restrict travel to limit the spread of the virus. Travel restrictions of public transport and employing physical distancing norms for commuters, yet to win the confidence of users and thereby remains difficult for psychological and behavioural reasons. On the other hand, we have seen, there is an improvement in air quality of many cities due to the limited transport activity, thus contributing to the achievements of number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). But these are short lived dividends and air pollution or emissions of toxic gases are expected to intensify again once the situation comes to normalcy. Hence, for long run, it would be prudent to plan and reshape cities based on active mobility and transport system.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) enlisted different types of infrastructure to promote active mobility wherein, impetus was given to exclusive lanes earmarked for walking and cycling along with parks and resting areas. Subsequently, the connection between these infrastructure, active mobility and health could be used as a basis to build a resilient-city against future pandemics and extreme events.
Steps ahead for a resilient future
This pandemic has highlighted couple of weaknesses of traditional urban planning approach and offers the possibility of reorienting mindset of transport, urban and city planners. Rather this pandemic has open debate about restructuring of cities and more importantly to look out for their response to future crisis. In fact, the cities should be plan not only resilient to deal with a pandemic but also to mitigate the worst effects of other extreme events.
Following are some of the key pointers on how urban planning could unfold in the years to come:
- Urban agglomerations with multiple satellite towns could be the norm instead of conventional cities with a city centre;
- Thrust should to be given upon ensuring and access to basic amenities viz. housing, water and healthcare facilities to all;
- It is expected that there will be an additional 2.5 billion urban dwellers by 2050. So, formulation of laws and policies for improvement of informal settlements, access to affordable housing and healthy living conditions, should be other important prerequisites to be followed;
- Integration of green-blue spaces and built infrastructure need to incorporate to build resilience, prevent natural disasters, hence leading towards climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability;
- Overarching planning framework including economic, social, transport, and energy aspects should include to ensure that the ripple effects of local actions can be foreseen and controlled;
- Introduction of digital infrastructure to support long-term planning through a data-driven approach.
This situation raises plethora of questions on the present way of life and put us to address and re-discover things which will perhaps lead to a more economic, social and environmentally friendly surrounding. Therefore, it is high time we resolute to adopt an ex-ante urban planning framework.
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